Sometimes I wonder how the Dead Island series came to this. When it was first announced, we had a taste of a dramatic and touching struggle of a family fighting against the hordes of undead. Now we’ve got a game where you play as a pseudo-Jack Black-type character punching through a non-stop barrage of enemies while casually spouting 2007-era memes and saying “Dude, not cool!” upon taking damage. Dead Island Retro Revenge isn’t your standard Dead Island, and the mix up manages to hurt a bit more than it helps.
First, I need to get something important out of the way. While Dead Island Retro Revenge may look like a classic Beat ‘Em Up such as Final Fight or Streets of Rage, don’t be fooled. To my surprise, the game has more in common with endless runners and rhythm games than it does the quarter-munchers of yesteryear. From the moment the game starts off, our hero is running, and there’s nothing you can do to speed him up or slow him down unless you want to sacrifice some health and take damage (you don’t). The only movement option you have is to swap between three zombie-filled lanes.
You have four different attack types (low, medium, high, backward) to fight off the enemies, and each of them requires different strategies. While your default zombies can be taken down with basically any combination of forward-facing attacks, you’ll eventually have to put up with enemies that require more complex strategies such as chaining together highs and lows to get past their defenses. I must say, I was impressed by the variety of enemies by the endgame, but until then you can just spam one attack type for each enemy to get the job done.
Thankfully, there are a few added wrinkles to make Dead Island Retro Revenge more complex than just pattern memorization. Certain enemies can be used as projectiles to clear out oncoming lanes, and others have thrown weapons such as grenades or machetes that you can reflect back at them to clear the way. On top of that, certain enemy sequences will glow – and if you manage to kill them all, you are rewarded with energy for a backup weapon you can use to devastate zombies. It’s a nice wrinkle that rewards players for taking on more complicated challenges and certainly feels a lot more rewarding than just pressing the right trigger to clear a screen with one of three super moves.
The same cannot be said for the once per level weapon pickups, which give you melee weapons that add nothing but range. At first, it was incredibly exciting to bust open one of the crates and find electric machetes and flaming fire axes, but the excitement fades when you realize they add little to the gameplay, and there’s only three of them – one for each chapter. So if you want to go back to the hammer by the time you’re in chapter 3, you’re straight out of luck. Better start getting used to those pixelated flames buddy.
As to be expected, it was hard for me not to feel that repetition set in during my time with Dead Island Retro Revenge. Except for one very short (think 30 seconds) sequence at the endgame, Dead Island Retro Revenge is just the same slog of punching zombies until the very end. While the game’s faux-retro graphical style sure looked nice, it couldn’t help distract me from the fact that the game is just going through the motions every time, throwing hordes of zombies at you that you can frequently defeat by mashing the same button up until the game’s final act. There’s a kernel of fun gameplay buried in Dead Island Retro Revenge, but by the time the credits rolled, I was starting to doubt getting to that fun was worth it.
Dead Island Retro Revenge was reviewed on Steam with a copy provided by the developer.
Dead Island Retro Revenge is not quite a runner, not quite a beat em up, and not quite a good game.